Saturday, December 22, 2012

Fringe 'Black Blotter'

Weekend!  Almost Christmas.  Fringe?  In a few hours, the latest episode will be streamable at Fox and at Hulu.  It's from eight days ago. 

There was a new episode aired tonight.  I missed it but I'll watch it at Fox tomorrow (which you can do if you have a cable or dish provider and know your i.d. number). 

Besides the one that aired tonight, there are three more episodes left (all set to air in January).

"Black Blotter" is the episode we're talking about tonight and it was a really great episode.  So great, that I looked up the writer.  It was written by Kristin Cantrell.  I don't know her, do you?  She wrote a great episode.

Walter drops acid.  And he's tripping.  And that's actually good because he comes at things from different angles that really pay off.

It also had a little bit, like a minute or so, of animation.

So Astrid wakes up, she's at their lab in Boston where she and Walter live behind the amber.  And she hears beeps.  She looks for Walter who has dropped acid (she doesn't realize it until he tells her that her hair is beautiful for the second or third time).  The radio is now picking up a signal.  It's the one they brought back from the little pocket zone that Donald  and the boy were hidden in.  The episode's about finding Donald.

Olivia and Peter live in the lab too, now that Etta's not only dead (their daughter) but her apartment is no longer safe. 

While Peter, Astrid and Olvia try to figure out what is going on, Walter is tripping on the acid. 

He starts seeing this woman (we've seen her before) she was Walter's lab assistant in the 1980s.  And sometimes it seems like she's helping him and sometimes like she's destroying him.  There's one scary sequence where he's in a taxi and she sets him up to be exposed to the Watchers and that turns out to be a part of his trip and he's really okay.

Peter and Olivia track down the signal and end up in the woods.  There are these skeletons around a car.  The look in the car (actually, I think it was a van) and find a dead man.  They're convinced it's Donald.  So did he activate the signal?  And where's the little boy? 

Olivia looks at the i.d. and figures out it's not Donald.  Peter gets that the signal's actually not originating from the woods.  It's being relayed.

The signal's actually coming from a small island.

So they rent a boat and get ready to head out when the Watchers come up in a boat and plan to read Peter.  Immediately, a shoot out ensues.  All Watchers are killed and Oliva, Walter, Astrid and Peter head for the island in the boat.  They encounter a couple who doesn't believe they're there for good.  Then Walter remembers the password (because he's on acid).

The couple has been raising the young boy (and calling him Michael).

They turn him over to Olivia, Walter, Astrid and Peter.   They go back with him -- I'm wondering about the Watchers that were slaughtered on the dock.  Did no one ever find out about that?

So now they have Michael.  They still don't know where Donald is.

Walter's going nuts, by the way.  The subplot was about how the old assistant appeared as part of his mental problems.  And he's afraid that he's losing control to the old Walter.  (Remember, before the show starts, Walter gets Billy to take out a part of his brain because he fears he's going evil.)

He also has to be scared because when the show started, Walter was in an institution for the criminally insane.

The tripping included Walter hearing (or maybe listening to, he has his old vinyl) Donovan's "Hurly Gurly Man."  He also saw, besides the lab assistant, someone who was like Disney's Tinkerbell. And he saw Nina from years ago.  That might not have been a memory but a psychotic fantasy.

This episode really needed Astrid.  I think this may have been the best one this season for Jasika Nicole.

It's not that they gave her some great scenes (like last season when the two Astrids from different earths met) but it just needed her.  Without her, we would have been looking at Walter like he was just some nut.  Without her, the episode would have lacked an intensity.

I hope she gets a spotlighted role in the remaining episodes.  If not, this is probably the best one for her of the season.

In other news, Senator John Kerry has been nominated to be the next US Secretary of State.  He is a strong choice and I hope he wins the nomination.

Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Friday, December 21, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, Nouri uncorks The Crazy, the New York Times rushes to cover for him and invents their own set of 'facts,' Iraqiya and Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc both call Nouri out, the leader of Sahwa calls him out, top US officials insult Iraq by refusing to issue a statement from the President or Vice President or Secretary of State note that the President of Iraq is ailing and hospitalized, we go back to the Benghazi hearings yesterday, and more.
In Iraq, it's seasonal tidings.  Yes, that time of the year when Nouri uncorks The Crazy.  How bad is it?  So bad that rumors attach War Criminal Henry Kissinger's name to the current crisis.   Or, with a take from a different angle,  conservative Max Boot (Commentary) proclaims, "Ho hum, another holiday season, another power grab by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki."  AFP says the new crisis "threatens to reignite a long-running feud between the secular, Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc" and Nouri and his State of Law political slate.  What the heck are we talking about?  Look at this Reuters photo (individual photographer is not credited by the news agency or we'd note him or her by name) of the thousands who turned out to protest in Falluja today demanding Nouri al-Maliki resign as prime minister.

After morning prayers, Kitabat reports, protesters gathered in Falluja to protest the arrests and Nouri al-Maliki.  They chanted down with Nouri's brutality and, in a move that won't change their minds, found themselves descended upon by Nouri's forces who violently ended the protest.  Before that, Al Mada reports, they were chanting that terrorism and Nouri are two sides of the same coin.  Kitabat also reports that demonstrations also took place in Tikrit, Samarra, Ramdia and just outside Falluja with persons from various tribes choosing to block the road connecting Anbar Province (Falluja is the capitol of Anbar) with Baghdad.  Across Iraq, there were calls for Nouri to release the bodyguards of Minister of Finance Rafie al-Issawi.  Alsumaria notes demonstrators in Samarra accused Nouri of attempting to start a sectarian war.

So what happened yesterday?  Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports:

Iraq's Finance Minister Rafei al-Essawi said Thursday that "a militia force" raided his house, headquarters and ministry in Baghdad and kidnapped 150 people, and he holds the nation's prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, responsible for their safety.
 Members of the al-Essawi's staff and guards were among those kidnapped from the ministry Thursday, the finance minister said. He also said that his computers and documents were searched at his house and headquarters. He said the head of security was arrested Wednesday at a Baghdad checkpoint for unknown reasons and that now the compound has no security.
Kitabat explains that these raids took place in the Green Zone, were carried out by the Iraqi military and that Nouri, yesterday evening, was insisting he knew nothing about them.    In another report, Tawfeeq quotes al-Essawi stating, "My message to the prime minister: You are a man who does not respect partnership at all, a man who does not respect the law and the constitution, and I personally hold you fully responsible for the safety of the kidnapped people." BBC News adds, "Rafie al-Issawi, a prominent member of the al-Iraqiyya political bloc, said about 150 of his bodyguards and staff members had been arrested on Thursday."  Nine in some reports, the Ministry of the Interior states 10.  So al-Essawi's just a liar?
No.  What appears to have happened is what Nouri practices, it's disgusting and it's illegal and the White House looks the other way every damn time.
What appears to have happened was that about 150 people were kidnapped.  Of those 150, 10 or so were arrested on charges of 'terrorism.'  And the rest?
They're being held.  They're being 'questioned' which, in Nouri's Iraq, means they're being tortured.  At least one of Tareq al-Hashemi's bodyguards was tortured to death -- beaten so badly he had kidney failure.  Two women who were part of Tareq's office staff were held for weeks, kidnapped and held for weeks, to get them to 'confess.'  Nouri did the same thing in October when he 'fired' (he didn't have that power) Sinan al-Shabibi as Govenor of the Central Bank of Iraq.  Suddenly, al-Shabibi's staff was rounded up and 'detained.'
We now have to drop back to the March 22nd snapshot:
Since December, those working for Tareq al-Hashemi have been rounded up by Nouri's forces.  At the end of January, Amnesty International was calling for the Baghdad government "to reveal the whereabouts of two women arrested earlier this month, apparently for their connection to the country's vice-president.  Rasha Nameer Jaafer al-Hussain and Bassima Saleem Kiryakos were arrested by security forces at their homes on 1 January.  Both women work in the media team of Iraqi Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi, who is wanted by the Iraqi authorities on terrorism-related charges."  Yesterday, al-Hashemi noted that his bodyguard had died and stated that it appeared he had died as a result of torture.
 Alsumaria notes Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi is calling for the international community to call out the death of his bodyguard, Amer Sarbut Zeidan al-Batawi, who died after being imprisoned for three months. al-Hashemi has stated the man was tortured to death. The photo Alsumaria runs of the man's legs (only the man's legs) appear to indicate he was tortured, welts and bruises and scars.  They also report that the Baghdad Operations Command issued a statement today insisting that they had not tortured al-Batawi and that he died of chronic renal.  They also insist that he was taken to the hospital for medical treamtent on March 7th and died March 15th. Renal failure would be kidney failure.  And that's supposed to prove it wasn't torture?
If you work for an outlet that just spits out what you are told and didn't actually learn a profession, yes.  Anyone with half a brain, however, apparently that's half more than the average journalist possess today knows to go to science.  The Oxford Journal is scientific. This is from the Abstract for GH Malik, AR Reshi, MS Najar, A Ahmad and T Masood's "Further observations on acute renal failure following physical torture" from 1994:
Thirty-four males aged 16–40 (mean 25) years in the period from August 1991 to February 1993 presented in acute renal failure (ARF), 3–14 (mean 5) days after they had been apprehended and allegedly tortured in Police interrogation centres in Kashmir. All were beaten involving muscles of the body, in addition 13 were beaten on soles, 11 were trampled over and 10 had received repeated electric shocks.
Out of that group? 29 did live. Five died.  I don't think the Baghdad Command Operations created any space between them and the charge with their announcement of renal failure as the cause of death.  But, hey, I went to college and studied real topics -- like the law and political science and sociology and philosophy -- and got real degrees not glorified versions of a general studies degree with the word "journalism" slapped on it.  So what do I know?
We have to note that -- all of that -- because one of the worst outlets on Iraq decided to 'report' today and they didn't get one damn fact right.  We'll get back to it. 
Now if Bully Boy Bush were in office currently, I would honestly cut him some slack here because he can't call out Nouri for rounding up innocent people, not after he ordered US troops to pick up the wives and mothers of various supposed criminals, not after he ordered US troops to 'talk tough' to these women, not after he ordered US troops to let them think they would be raped and tortured if they did not talk.  (As far as is known, no woman was raped or tortured by US troops to give up information on a family member.  But many Iraqi women were threatened and bullied into believing that would happen.  There is a word for that: "Terrorism.")  So if Bully Boy Bush were still occupying the White House, I'd understand why he couldn't call out actions so similar to his own.  But President Barack Obama is a different person -- one who supposedly hasn't decided that the US government should demonstrate less scruples than the mafia -- so I'm having a real hard time understanding why the current White House can't call out these clear violations of the law and of human rights.
We all need to grasp and acknowledge what's happening.  AFP's quoting Abdelsattar Bayraqdar ("Higher Judicial Council spokesman") stating that the commander of the bodyguards has "confessed" -- these are forced confessions.  And it's past time that Nouri's screwed up 'justice' system in Baghdad was called out.  The judiciary does not issue statements on guilt before any trial.  They did that with Tareq al-Hashemi as well (with multiple judges holding that press conference and one 'objective' judge telling reporters present that Tareq had tried to kill him).  This is a joke but it's a sad one because Iraqis have to live with this.  It's yet another failure of the US government's war on Iraq.
As a result of these actions, Al Mada reports, Sahwa leader Ahmed Abu Risha has called for Nouri to apologize (and do so within 24 hours) and to release the hostages.  He floated the notion that Nouri's refusal could relate in the international highway that links Iraq to Jordan being cut off.  Al Mada also notes that a member of the Sadr bloc spoke to the media to note that this is yet another political crisis, yet another one created by Nouri in his six years in office, that the way this was carried out makes people lose trust/faith in the government, that this seems to be an echo of the divisions Nouri started last year with the targeting of Tareq al-Hashemi, that the operation was unobjective and unprofessional and that the lack of respect shown to Minister al-Issawi is a worry and threat to all the political blocs.   The article notes that Iraqiya repeated their assertion from a few weeks back that Nouri creates these crises to distract from his failure as head of state.  That's not all Iraqiya is doing.  The Iraq Times reports that they have formed two delegations.  The one headed by Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi will go to Erbil and discuss this latest crisis with various Kurdish officials including KRG President Massoud Barzani.  A second delegation (the head of which is not noted but is most likely Saleh al-Mutlaq) will remain in Baghdad and meet with cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr and with the head of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq Ammar al-Hakim. 
Al Arabiya reports he held a press conference today with Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq standing by his side as al-Issawi declared, "I call on the prime minister to resign, because he did not behave like a man of state."

Rafei al-Essawi is a Sunni.  He is also a member of Iraqiya, the political slate that came in first in the March 2010 parliamentary elections.  Nouri's State of Law came in second.  Per the Constitution, Iraiqya should have had first crack at forming a government and one of their members named prime minister-designate.  However, Barack Obama decided -- the will of the Iraqi voters, democracy and the Iraqi Constitution be damned -- he wanted Nouri to have a second term instead.   From John Barry's "'The Engame' Is A Well Researched, Highly Critical Look at U.S. Policy in Iraq" (Daily Beast):

Washington has little political and no military influence over these developments [in Iraq]. As Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor charge in their ambitious new history of the Iraq war, The Endgame, Obama's administration sacrificed political influence by failing in 2010 to insist that the results of Iraq's first proper election be honored: "When the Obama administration acquiesced in the questionable judicial opinion that prevented Ayad Allawi's bloc, after it had won the most seats in 2010, from the first attempt at forming a new government, it undermined the prospects, however slim, for a compromise that might have led to a genuinely inclusive and cross-sectarian government."
In Iraqi eyes, it's actually even worse than that as one report maintains that Nouri was in conversations with former US Secretary of State and noted War Criminal Henry Kissinger.  That may not be an accurate rumor.  Whether it's true or not doesn't matter.  The fact that it's being passed around goes to the distrust Iraqis now have with the US government and, if it's not true, the selection of Kissinger is especially meant to offend.
 If you're thinking, "He's trying to arrest a member of Iraqiya in December," and you're thinking, "This seems so familiar," you are correct.  It was this time last year that he tried to oust one Iraqiya member from his Cabinet and to have the Vice President arrested.  And, for those who've forgotten, al-Issawi was being mentioned even then as being on the targeted list.  Dropping back to December 24th:

Mustafa Habib (Al Mada) notes that Nouri al-Maliki's targeting Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi with terrorism charges and calling for Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq have many noticing that both are members of Iraqiya and political opponents of Nouri and that while the political crisis has revealed a diminished role for the US it has underscored that the Kurds remain the heart of the country's political process. Dar Addustour reports that Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi announced the postponement of the scheduled meeting yesterday of the political blocs while Nouri's spokesperson floated the notion that there are other charges waiting in the wings. Reportedly this includes charging the Minister of Finance, Rafie al-Issawi, with terrorism, specifically with killings in Falluja back in 2006. Like Tareq al-Hashemi and Saleh al-Mutlaq, Rafie al-Issawi is a member of Iraqiya. Dar Addustour also notes Hoshyar Zebari, Foreign Minister, issued a statement declaring the matter should have been resolved by the political blocs but has instead played out in the press. Al Mada adds that Kurdistan Regional President Massoud Barzani and US Ambassador James Jeffrey spoke yesterday and are calling for a meeting among the political blocs and that State of Law was whining about the Friday meet-up, whining that Iraqiya is boycotting Parliament but they want to attend the meet-up. Aswat al-Iraq notes, "Iraqiya bloc leader Iyad Alawi described recent events in Iraq as 'liquidation of differences', warning an explosive era waiting Iraq in the coming days, according to an interview with Arabia TV late yesterday (Friday)." Sinan Salaheddin and Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) report that Moqtada al-Sadr is proposing a "14-point 'peace code'" and attempting to present himself as a leader.

Last December, he waited until the bulk of US troops had left the country to uncork The Crazy.  This December, he waited until Jalal Talabani had a stroke and was out of the country.  Nouri is paranoid.  When we made that point in 2006 and 2007 and 2008, you could ignore it.  You could ignore it when I'd say, "State Dept friends say . . ."  But thanks to WikiLeaks release of the US State Dept cables, there is now proof that the State Dept found him paranoid, called him paranoid in one cable after another and at what point does the US government stop stroking the crazy and start demanding justice for the Iraqi people?

Alsumaria notes that Saleh al-Mutlaq is calling for  Iraqiya to withdraw from Parliament, the government and the political process if there is not an immediate investigation into what was done and Rafie al-Issawi is not protected.  al-Mutlaq says it's a question of sovereignty and the law.  (Nouri's attempt to oust al-Mutlaq were abandoned by last May due to the fact that Nouri could not get the votes in Parliament needed to oust the Deputy Prime Minister).  Patrick Mareky and Rasheem Salman (Reuters) note:

Finance Minister Rafie al-Esawi, a member of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, said late on Thursday that more than 100 bodyguards and staff were snatched illegally by militias, and blamed Maliki for orchestrating the raids to target opponents.
Maliki's office said only six bodyguards were arrested under counter terrorism laws.

Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi remains Vice President.  Let me repeat that: Tareq al-Hashemi remains Vice President of Iraq.  The New York Times has wrongly stated this evening that he is no longer vice president.  I'm sorry but the New York Times is a newspaper, it is not a governing body.  It would do well to stick to facts. I'm sorry that facts are so hard for it.  Tareq al-Hashemi is a Vice President of Iraq.  Until his term expires, until he is removed from office before his term expires, until he dies or resigns before his term expires, he remains Vice President.  Tareq al-Hashemi was convicted of terrorism by the Baghdad 'court,' yes.  So you can say he is the only convicted Vice President in the world.  Or you can say he's the only sitting Vice President who has been sentenced to death -- five times, not three as the New York Times also wrongly states.  AFP noted last Friday (December 14th), "An Iraqi court has handed down a fifth death sentence on the country's fugitive Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi on a weapons charge, Iraqiya state television reported on Thursday."  Al Arabiya carries that AFP report here. Xinhua reported, "An Iraqi court on Thursday issued for the fifth time a death penalty verdict in absentia against the fugitive Sunni vice president Tariq al-Hashimi, a judicial source said."  Adam Schreck, Qassim Abdul-Zahra, Sinan Salaheddin and Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) reported:
Also on Thursday, an Iraqi court handed the country's fugitive Sunni vice president a new death sentence after finding him guilty of possession, transportation and using silenced weapons. It is the fifth death sentence since trials against Tariq al-Hashemi began last spring, according to his defense team leader, Muayad Obeid al-Ezzi.
Do I need to continue or is the point established that the New York Times is 100% wrong when they claim Tareq was "sentenced to death three times."  Did you also notice everyone calls him the "fugitive vice president."  Not the former vice president.  He's not been removed from office.  Iraqiya has not turned on Tareq.  (Ayad Allawi made that clear in a video interview earlier this month that we'll try to link to before the end of this month.)  The Kurds have not turned on him.  To say that last year he "was then a vice president," Tareq remains a vice president.  I'm sorry that the New York Times doesn't care about accuracy.  I'm actually more troubled that the same outlet that covered for Nouri's attack on protesters and journalists at the end of February 2011 is yet again slanting things for Nouri instead of playing it down the middle.
Maybe Tim Arango shouldn't be reporting on Iraq from Vermont?  Maybe it's not Tim's fault, maybe it's the co-writer?  (As a general rule, an Iraqi writer gets several strikes before I call them out here. That reporter just had their first strike and I'm not mentioning their name.)  I don't know but I know the report is factually wrong -- as we've already noted and could continue to note --  and it is offensive.  To note an alleged "confession" and not note the history of torture in Nouri's Iraq -- well documented by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International -- or that last March saw the death of Amer Sarbut Zeidan al-Batawi while in Iraqi custody -- the man was tortured to death and they can't even note that he died.  I try to avoid the New York Times, it's too frustrating but then I've got a voice mail, NYT friend, "We've got an Iraqi story can you link to it?"  Can you read it to me?  Can you tell me how that crap made it into print?  The second question they never can answer. 
Nouri didn't have the votes to oust him either.  Nouri does control the kanagaroo court in Baghdad -- which declared Tareq guilty in a February press conference, months before the trial even began.  But according to the law, the conviction and the five death sentences Tareq received were really not received.  Tareq would have to first be stripped of his office to be tried.  Due to the targeting, Tareq left Baghdad and then the KRG and now resides in Turkey.  All Iraq News reports Tareq states today that Nouri's actions aren't surprising (they aren't) and that this is futher targeting of political rivals because Nouri does not want to share power.   He also notes that what's happening was completely expected.

And he's correct there as well.  So the question is, how much longer is the US going to support the tryant Nouri who they know has repeatedly run secret prisons in which Iraqis have been tortured?  He's run these secret prisons since first being installed by the US as prime minister in 2006?

Secret prisons, broken contracts, targeting of political rivals, corruption and so much more.

And in the US, there has been a Republican occupant of the Oval Office (Bully Boy Bush) and now an elected President (Barack Obama) from the Democratic Party and both men have supported and backed thug Nouri -- a thug so sick and disgusting that he spent the start of this year demonizing and targeting Iraqi youths -- Emo and LGBT and those suspected of being either.  He had his Ministry of Interior draw up warnings about these groups, he had them to go to school and demonize these people and the deaths followed and only international attention stopped it.

This is what two different US administrations have embraced.  It's disgusting and it needs to stop.
But reporters don't even call it out.  At today's US State Dept press briefing, spokesperson Patrick Ventrell was finally asked about Iraq at the very end of the press conference.

QUESTION: Change topics? Iraq?
MR. VENTRELL: Iraq? Sure.
QUESTION: With the Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in the hospital, tension seems to be rising between the KRG and the central government. Is our – your ambassador in consultation or in talks with both parties to sort of mitigate these tensions?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. Thanks for the question, Said. We're absolutely engaged. Since learning of the reports, we've been engaged across the political spectrum. We've urged Iraqi leaders to uphold their commitments to due process and the rule of law as enshrined in their constitution. Any actions from any party that subvert the rule of law or provoke ethnic or sectarian tension risk undermining the significant progress Iraq has made toward peace and stability and important work that the United States and Iraq are doing together. So we've absolutely been engaged on this, certainly from our Embassy in Baghdad, and we will continue to be engaged.
QUESTION: One of the most daunting issues between the two, the KRG and the central government, is actually the oil law, the hydrocarbon law. What have you done? Sort of what kind of progress is being made in that area, and what kind of assistance are you giving?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, suffice to say our – this is a longstanding policy of the U.S. that we support a constitutional solution to disputes over the management of Iraq's hydrocarbon resources. So this is something that we continue to urge both sides to reach an agreement on, but I have no update for you on our policy in that regard.
Since we're on the US State Dept, let me ask a question -- am I the only one bothered that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama have all failed to issue any statement regarding Jalal Talabani?  Other heads of states and organization have issued statements wishing the Iraqi President a speedy recovery.  The Obama administration just seems to ignore Iraq day after day.  This while they continue to spend billions in Iraq and while they are planning to ask for more billions for the next fiscal year.  Yes, for example, Hillary was injured over the weekend and has been working from her home.  But she had plenty of time today to issue a statement about Senator John Kerry being named to replace her as Secretary of State. Barack's issued a ton of statements as well, Joe's last statement issued was December 17th.  What must Jalal Talabani's wife think of America?  She's probably too busy to think of it now but when things calm down and she reflects on which leaders and officials reached out and which didn't, there's going to be a lot of hurt there.   The US government can throw all the (taxpayer) money at Iraq that it wants to, until it demonstrates that it actually gives a damn about Iraqi people, that money is useless.  And while I feel very sorry for the offense and bad manners the US government is showing to the First Lady of Iraq, I think we also need to remember that the silence is also an insult to the people of Iraq.
Jalal Talabani is in Germany having been medically transported there yesterday.  Al Mada interviewed First Lady Hero Ibrahim Ahmed on the plane en route to Germany yesterday.  She stated that her husband's condition was stable and that he was able to gesture.  Seh stressed that the President was giving his all to bring peace in Iraq (Jalal has been mediating on several of the crises Nouri al-Maliki's created in the last two years -- ongoing crises).  She explains that Talabani returned to Baghdad solely to address the crisis involving the stand-off between the Peshmerga and Nouri's forces in the disputed areas.  She stated everyone knows that the president was willing to do anything to resolve the issue, even sacrifice his own health.  The couple has been married for over thirty years.

On Monday evening, following a meeting with Nouri, Jalal was taken to Baghdad Medical Center Hospital for what the prime minister's office has said was a stroke but the president's staff has left it as an unidentified health condition.  The news broke on Tuesday.  Wednesday, Iraqi doctors were joined by British and German doctors.  It was felt that Talabani was in stable enough condition and could be transferred to Germany.  Al Mada reports he is  at Berlin's  Charite University Hospital which is one of Europe's largest hospitals and was established in the year 1710. 

Of Jalal's role in Iraqi politics, AKE Group's John Drake tells AFP, "While on paper his role is somewhat limited, his influence and mediation skills have gone a long way in smoothing over the country's troubled political scene. Some may describe his position as 'ceremonial' but he has made it a lot more active, simply through dialogue and discussion, which play a strong role in Iraqi politics."

US House Rep Mike Kelly:  Ambassador Burns, when you talk about resources -- only 1% of the budget -- so what is 1$ of the budget?  So what is our budget?

Thomas Nides:  Our budget is $50 billion.

US House Rep Mike Kelly:  Fifty-billion dollars.

Thomas Nides:  That's right.  Approximately 8% of the defence budget.

US House Rep Mike Kelly:  Okay.  So when people hear "1%" it doesn't sound like a lot of money but fifty billion is certainly a lot of money.  When we talk about resources -- and I'm trying to understand because I've listened to a couple of different briefings, I've heard  Mr. Pickering and Adm Mullen, I've heard you gentlemen today and  think maybe you're not the folks that should be here because, as Mr. Johnson pointed out, you weren't really part of the decision making process.  But what I'm trying to understand, what I can't get my mind wrapped around is everybody says this was a very unstable and highly volatile area.  Then why, for God's sake, would we take out the best trained people we have?  Why? Why did we move the SST team?  Was it because of money?
That's from yesterday's House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.  We noted it in yesterday's snapshot.  Last night, Ava covered it with "Howard Berman's fuzzy figures (Ava)" noting that Howard Berman wanted to talk about how underfunded the security for security was . . .  by talking about global warming funding -- he couldn't find the figures for security apparently (suprising since Senator Barabara Boxer was able to and to cite them in yesterday morning's Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing).  You can't talk money without talking waste and Wally's "Waste at the State Dept. is okay (Wally)" last night addressed the State Dept witnesses William Burns and Thomas Nides being confronted (by two different House Reps) with a long list of money spent on non-necessary items and events and Nides chose to respond that there is waste in the private industry as well.  Yes, there is.  But the private industry doesn't run on taxpayer funds.  Ruth's "Benghazi questions must still wait" covered so much including how accountability got lost as US House Rep Karen Bass went on in the hearing about how she said no one should be called out until an investigation was conducted but now that it was conducted and released, she didn't want to focus on accountability, she wanted to figure out what to do?  And you wonder why no one is ever held responsible for their actions?
Ruth also notes US House Rep Jean Schmidt and I'd planned to include that section of the hearing in full.  Maybe next week.  We've gutted 30K, the original opening of the snapshot, because it was 150K, we've got to lose some more.  We're going to note an exchange by Committee Chair Ilena Ros-Lehtinen instead and then discuss that.
Chair Ilena Ros-Lehtinen:  Secondly, who specifically changed Susan Rice's public talking points by eliminating references to al Qaeda and why?  If there was a national security concern, what was it?  When did the inaccurate, spontaneous protest narrative originate?   Where did it originate?  And why was that story deemed more fit for publication than the accurate terrorism evidence?  And if Ambassador Rice had little knowledge of the facts on the ground in Benghazi, why was she selected by the administration to be the spokesperson on this subject?  Ambassador Burns?
William Burns:  Well, Madam Chair, on your second question, and then I'll turn it over to Tom on the first with regard to the budget, what happened in Benghazi on September 11th was clearly a terrorist attack.  Secretary Clinton addressed that directly the following morning in her first public statement when she talked about an assault by heavily armed militants on our compound.  Later that same day, President Obama talked of an act of terror.  What was not clear that day was who exactly was involved?  Which terrorists were responsible?  What their motives were? How exactly this terrorist attack came about? Whether it was planned well in advance or more of a target of opportunity?  I am confident that the senior administration officials who spoke to this issue and the intelligence community experts -- on whom they relied -- acted in good faith throughout this period.  Their focus was on trying to be as factual as possible. Their focus was on actions because, Madam Chair, as you know, there were a number of other concerns in this period.  Over that period of days, we had mobs coming over the walls in our embassies in Cario, in Tunis and in Sinai and that was a very heavy focus for Secretary Clinton and for people across the administration.
What?  I'm referring to Sinai.  The attack in Sinai was on September 14th (a Friday) and shouldn't have required focus from the State Dept -- it wasn't a State Dept facility it was a military outpost that some US forces were at, but it was an international outpost.  It was not a US facility.  If you're new to that attack, read this Times of Israel report. And after you do, explain to us all why an attack on the Multinational Force and Observers headquarters in Sinai required State Dept attention?  The Telegraph of London noted in a live blog of the attacks, "A little more about the Multinational Force & Observers (MFO) based in Sinai.  There are 1,656 troops stationed at bases throughout the area.  Twelve nations contributed soldiers to the force but the largest contingent is from the United States.  Their mission is to monitor and enforce the 1979 peace agreement that ended the conflict between Israel and Egypt."  Rawya Rageh (Al Jazeera) called it "a camp for the UN multinational peacekeepers in Sheikh Zuwayed town."
William Burns:  As we were able to clear up, the inaccuracies in the original assessments, because, as the ARB points out, there was no protest or demonstration before the attack took place.  But it did take the intelligence community some days to determine that that was inaccurate as they debriefed the survivors of the attack on Benghazi.  I'm sure our colleageus in the intelligence community wish that they could have cleared up those inaccuracies sooner. They did it as quickly as they could and were then in direct touch with the Congress and briefed you on it.
[Thomas Nides then speaks to Ros-Lehtinen's budget question.]
Chair Ilena Ros-Lehtinen:  Thank you.  On the specific questions regarding Susan Rice, do you have anything further to add about the talking points and references?  Because in e-mails, as the attacks were under way, the Diplomatic Operations Command Center was calling it a terrorist attack, as it was under way.  So it's not like the picture was clearer several days later -- while the attack was taking place, in e-mails.
William Burns:  Madam Chair, as I said, both the Secretary and the President, on September 12th addressed, I think, in very clear terms what happened and what the nature of the attack was.  Second, the talking points that you refer to were produced by the CIA.  I think the CIA has briefed a number of people on the Hill about the process that they went through and I'm sure that they'd be able to come out --
Chair Ilena Ros-Lehtinen:  Thank you.
What confuses those of us who have attended all the public hearings on that September 11, 2012 Benghazi attack which killed Glen Doherty, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods and Chris Stevens with regards to Susan Rice's presentation is that it was not confusing.  Schmidt establishes that.  The State Dept's Patrick Kennedy, in an October hearing, covered that he was in the halls of Congress the day after the attack, speaking to Congress members and their staff, and explaining it was a terrorist attack.  He made a point to state that he and the State Dept did not refer to a spontaneous protest or flash mob or any such nonsense.  We have sat through these hearings as the State Dept officials have been repeatedly clear that they never passed that on to Congress, that they presented it as a terrorist attack from the very first.  So now Schmidt and the Committee Chair are both talking about the observations -- recorded observations -- of those present.  Ros-Lehtinen referred to e-mails, Schmidt referred to a report filed that called it a terrorist attack -- and did so before any US official with the administration ever spoke.  These are the first-hand observations of those people on the ground in Benghazi.  [See Wally's "THIS JUST IN! BAD NEWS FOR BOBBY!" and Cedric's "Somerby's big lie gets rejected" from earlier this week on those who can't grasp what the Congress has been told.]
So when Susan Rice goes on five different live television programs on one Sunday morning and repeatedly talks about a video and about a protest -- no connection to the video, no protest took place -- her words were not just inaccurate, they were misleading.  Whether she's a liar or a dupe is something to take up with her.  But repeatedly, we have watched and heard the State Dept raise their hands in a don't-shoot-me-posture and say, "We never did that.  We always knew." 
Susan Rice may be the stupidest person in the world.  It's possible.  Or she may have lied.  I don't think the American public will get the truth anytime soon.  But to pretend  -- and to lie -- as so many have in recent weeks that 'no one could have guessed,' no one could have known better is a lie.  And since there were people who were first-hand observers, I think if I were entrusted with conveying the truth to the American people about what had happened in Benghazi and since all survivors had been transported (first to Germany, then to the US) days before Susan Rice went on TV, I think I would have asked to speak to at least one of them before going on camera to 'explain' what happened.  I think her failure to do so goes to either her eagerness to lie or to her own gross incompetence.  When you are about to go before the American people to discuss what happened and you weren't there and it's not your area, you speak to everyone you can, not just a few handlers who help you hone some talking points.  Susan Rice is not fit to serve in government.  She's damn lucky she's been able (thus far) to keep her current post as Ambassador to the United Nations.  We will be covering the hearing more next week.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The end of the what?

Thursday! Almost the weekend!

Or almost the end of the world -- if the Mayan calendar ending has you on edge.

Erin Mulvaney (Houston Chronicle) reports:

Depending on the scenario, the "end of the world" could come from giant solar storms, a meteor barreling toward Earth, a blackout or a mysterious "Planet X" threatening widespread destruction.
But doomsday predictions all seem to agree on one thing - the date - Friday, Dec. 21, 2012.
On the eve, NASA was working to quell fears and debunk the myth - pointing hundreds of concerned callers to the clear-cut scientific facts that promise the Earth will not end Friday.

So what do you think?

I don't think that the world ends tomorrow.

That seems sort of a "The End Is Nigh!" run through the streets drooling kind of thought to think.

While the world is not ending, it's not giving a lot of joy to a lot of people.  Chris Hedges explained two weeks ago why that was:

Hurricane Sandy, if you are poor, is the Katrina of the North. It has exposed the nation’s fragile, dilapidated and shoddy infrastructure, one that crumbles under minimal stress. It has highlighted the inability of utility companies, as well as state and federal agencies, to cope with the looming environmental disasters that because of the climate crisis will soon come in wave after wave. But, most important, it illustrates the depraved mentality of an oligarchic and corporate elite that, as conditions worsen, retreats into self-contained gated communities, guts basic services and abandons the wider population.
Sheepshead Bay, along with Coney Island, the Rockaways, parts of Staten Island and long stretches of the New Jersey coast, is obliterated. Stores, their merchandise destroyed by the water, are boarded up and closed. Rows of derelict cars, with the tires and license plates removed and the windows smashed, line the streets. Food distribution centers, most of them set up by volunteers from Occupy Sandy Recovery, hastily close before dark every day because of the danger of looting and robbery. And storm victims who remain in their damaged homes, often without heat, electricity or running water, clutch knives against the threat of gangs that prowl at night through the wreckage. 

The whole country's collapsing but no one wants to get honest about it.  That includes Barack who's gearing up to slash Social Security.  

Oh for the days when the Democratic Party cared about the working people.

Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Thursday, December 20, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue,  Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is moved to Germany, a spiritual leader is leaving Iraq, Iraqi children remain at risk, a new report on targeting journalists ignores Iraq, the House and Senate hold Benghazi hearings, and more.
US House Rep Mike Kelly:  Ambassador Burns, when you talk about resources -- only 1% of the budget -- so what is 1$ of the budget?  So what is our budget?
Thomas Nides:  Our budget if $50 billion.
US House Rep Mike Kelly:  Fifty-billion dollars.
Thomas Nides:  That's right.  Approximately 8% of the defence budget.
US House Rep Mike Kelly:  Okay.  So when people hear "1%" it doesn't sound like a lot of money but fifty billion is certainly a lot of money.  When we talk about resources -- and I'm trying to understand because I've listened to a couple of different briefings, I've heard  Mr. Pickering and Adm Mullen, I've heard you gentlemen today and  think maybe you're not the folks that should be here because, as Mr. Johnson pointed out, you weren't really part of the decision making process.  But what I'm trying to understand, what I can't get my mind wrapped around is everybody says this was a very unstable and highly volatile area.  Then why, for God's sake, would we take out the best trained people we have?  Why? Why did we move the SST team?  Was it because of money
Thomas Nides: Well as you're aware, as we spoke about earlier --
US House Rep Mike Kelly: It's just a yes or a no.  Was it because of money?
Thomas Nides:  No, it --
US House Rep Mike Kelly:  No, it wasn't because of money. Because we know the SST team really came out of the Department of Defense budget, right?  So it didn't have anything to do with your budget --
Thomas Nides:  The SST, as you are aware were in Tripoli and --
US House Rep Mike Kelly: No, I'm aware where they were.  And I'm also aware that Lt Col Woods had begged to stay there.  Mr.  Nordstrom, the regional officer, had begged to stay there. Ms. Lambe said it wasn't because of money that they couldn't stay, somebody made a really bad decision.  Now I don't have any idea of the voting registration of Ambassador [Chris] Stevens, of Sean Smith,  Mr. [Tyrone] Woods, Mr. [Glen] Doherty.  I have no idea how any of these folk registered.   It's not a matter of it being a partisan issue.  We have four dead Americans.  I'm trying for the life of me to understand how, when we say, [. . .]   You know what everybody says about the area?  It's a wild west show, nobody's in charge.    We're in a host country that can't supply us with the assets that we need?  What in the world were we thinking?  Why would we pull out people and make our ambassador more vulnerable?  And who made the decision?  And if neither one of you made the decision, say 'I didn't have anything to do with it.'  Because, what I'm finding out in this administration is that nobody had anything to do with it.   If you had anything to do with it, just say I had something to do with it and I made the decision.
Thomas Nides: No, we didn't.  We did not have anything to do with it.  That said we do need to make sure of --
US House Rep Mike Kelly:  Okay.  Are you aware of a GAO request from 2009 to do a review because they thought it was woefully -- a strategic review of our embassies were not taken and it was a strategic problem, a security problem, anyone of you aware of that?  We had a hearing on October the 10th, the GAO said that to this day the Department has not responded or done the review.  I find it interesting now we're going to do the review.  It's a little bit late.  So that hasn't taken place.  Now, I want to ask you, in addition to the four dead Americans, how many people were wounded that night?
William Burns: I think there were three Americans who were wounded that night and one of the wounded is still in Walter Reed Hospital and --
US House Rep Mike Kelly:   Just one of them?
William Burns:  I'm not certain.  I --
US House Rep Mike Kelly:  Any idea of how bad they were injured?
William Burns:  Yes, sir, the gentleman, our colleague, who's at Walter Reed was injured very badly --
US House Rep Mike Kelly:  Very badly.  Okay.
That's from this afternoon's House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing.  Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns and Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Thomas R. Nides appeared before the Committee to address the findings from the investigation by former Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Retired General Mike Mullen (former Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) into the events of September 11, 2012 when the US Consulate in Benghazi was attacked and Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, Tyrone Woods and Chris Stevens were killed.  There are two versions of the report -- the classified one and the unclassified.  The unclassified version has been [PDF format warning] posted online at the State Dept's website.
Senator John Kerry: I also want to emphasize that every member of this committee felt the loss of Ambassador Chris Stevens and his team in a very personal way.  We knew Chris Stevens well before he came before us for confirmation.  He had been a Pearson Fellow for Senator Lugar and the Committee.  We knew the depth of his character, of his intelligence and his dedication.  His death was a horrible blow in personal terms to the Committee as well as to the country and his family.  It evoked an outpouring of emotion on our Committee from the condolence book in our office in the Capitol to the private gestures of members of this Committee who shared their grief in private ways at Senate 116 signing the condolence books, touching the picture, saying a prayer.  Equally tragic was the loss of three courageous men whom I personally never met but whose families I had the chance to greet and hug when the military brought their loved ones' remains back, one last time, to Andrews Air Force Base.  That heartbreaking and solemn ceremony brought home the impact of our nation's loss.  Glen Doherty was a former Navy SEAL.  He was also from my home state and I talked a couple of times with his family.  Tyrone Woods was a former SEAL, Sean Smith an Air Force veteran, all people for whom service to country was their life.  So today we again say "thank you" to all of them, to the fallen and the families.  They all gave to our nation and we are grateful beyond words for their service and their sacrifice.
That was also today.  No, the Senator didn't show up at the House hearing.  John Kerry is also the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Burns and Nides appeared before his Committee this morning.  The two were appearing in place of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who had planned to attend but then passed out over the weekend, injured herself in her fall and is on doctor's orders to work out of her home.  (Actually, she was ordered to be on rest.  She got her doctor to agree to allow her to work out of her home.)  Chair John Kerry noted that the plan was for her to now appear before the Committee in January (she can't appear this month, this was the last hearing for the Committee this year).  US House Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is the outgoing Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.  (Outgoing because the Republicans impose term limits, she'll remain in Congress, she was re-elected in November.)  Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen noted that Hillary  is also scheduled to appear before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in January.
A few observations about the hearings.  Burns was a good witness.  Nides was testy and combative in the afternoon (House hearing).  That may make 'sense' to some.  And if you want to be simplistic (and stupid) you can assume that a Democrat being in the White House, the witnesses had an easier time in the morning when a Democrat controls the Committee (Kerry) than in the afternoon when a Republican controls the Committee (Ros-Lehtinen).  But that wasn't the case.  (And both Chairs conducted their hearings professionally.)  Nides was most testy when being questioned by US House Rep Russ Carnahan.  Carnahan is a Democrat and an easy going person in a hearing.  It was never clear why Nides decided to get rude but it was uncomfortable and Ros-Lehtinen tried to smooth it over after by thanking Carnahan for a photo of his grandfather (former US House Rep A.S.J. Carnahan) serving on the House Foreign Relations Committee decades ago.  (Russ Carnahan is the son of former Senator Jean Carnahan who was appointed to the Senate to fill her husband's seat after Senator Mel Carnahan passed away while in office.)  Repeating, there was no visible reason for Nides to have been rude to US House Rep Russ Carnahan.
It was not a good day for Democrats period.   If I'm a member of Congress who got damn lucky that the FBI waited until after the election to round up a member of my staff who was a sex offender (waited until after the election on the orders of Homeland Security), I really don't think I'd be on a high horse about how much I value accountability.  Especially since I didn't take accountability for providing a sex offender with the prestige to brag that he was working for a US Senator.  So, if I were that member of the Senate,  I think I'd try to keep a low profile.  Fortunately, that's the only embarrassing moment for the Senate Dems in today's hearing.   In the House?  Four embarrassing moments.  We'll note Priss-Priss.  If US House Rep Gerry Connolly wants to waste everyone's time with crap, well let's hope his constituents hold him accountable.  But in the halls of Congress, you're not a little girl or a boy going through puberty.  No one needs to hear your voice breaking as you go higher and higher.  Your mincing as you attempt to be rude hurts the ears and it doesn't come off stately or professional.  And your mocking of other members of the Congress was extremely unprofessional and something you should be ashamed of.
US House Rep Jeff Fortenberry would later declare, "I don't care to be lectured to about the need to be bi-partisan particularly in such an intolerant and uncivil tone. Now this is an important hearing.  There are serious questions here and to suggest that our motives are a ruse for political motivation to me is disrespectful and discourteous and I think unworthy of the levity of this important matter."  Though he spoke much later (he was the last to speak), he was referring to Connolly.  Fortenberry is correct that it was intolerant and uncivil.  
One of the embarrassing moments in the House will be covered by Ava tonight  at Trina's site, Wally's going to note money tonight at Rebecca's site and Ruth's covering the House hearing at her site tonight.
The Senate was more civil and more focused on getting answers to questions.  There was no speechifying or pretending you were actually a spokesperson for the White House (that happened in the House hearing).  Senator Barbara Boxer, if she's at the top of her game in a hearing, usually hits a note that others will pick up on in the weeks and months to come.  It was Boxer who, in April 2008 (April 8, 2008), wanted to know why the Iraqi government wasn't paying for the Sahwa?  She is the one who asked why these fighters who were paid to stop fighting the installed Iraqi government and the US forces were being paid by US tax payers -- $182 million a year.  Had Boxer not raised the issue, it might never have been raised and the US taxpayers might still be footing that bill. 
Near the end of her questioning, she slipped in the following.
Senator Barbara Boxer:  May I ask one last quick question? Thank you.  Was it appropriate to rely so heavily on Libyan militias to guard American personnel?  How was that decision made and how do we avoid these types of failures?  Are there standard policies and procedures for the hiring of contract guards?  Was Libya an anomaly or are there other embassies around the world where we're relying on the same type of forces?
Thomas Nides:  Well, as you know, Senator Boxer, we rely upon the Vienna Convention which we have for over 200 years.  The reali -- the fact for us on the ground is to rely on the local governments to protect us.  We can -- We have to do that because we do not have the ability to have enough troops on the ground and most of the countries would not allow us to so we are -- One of the tasks that Secretary Clinton asked us to do when we send out the assessment teams is to ask two very clear questions: A country's intent to protect us and their ability to protect us.  Sometimes those two are different.  And as we see what we refer to as the new normal, we have to constantly ask ourselves those questions.
Senator Barbara Boxer: Would you write to us and let us know if there are any other facilities that are relying on militia.  Thank you.  I thank you.
Again, when Boxer's at the top of her game, there's usually one key exchange that demonstrates where things are headed, how the issue will be seen by the Congress.  It's very likely that is the big takeaway from the attack: Why are militias being used, should we be using them?  (This will be addressed more in tomorrow's snapshot as we continue the coverage of the hearings.)
Thomas Nides was the disappointment from the State Dept.  The report Mullen and Pickering came up with had a list of recommendations, twenty-nine of them in fact, as Nides would declare to the Committee.  Yet he came before the Committee to talk about this report and its recommendations and he can't tell you how many items State has broken the recommendations down into?
This isn't a minor issue.  Nides, "The Task Force has already met to translate the recommendations into about 60 specific action items.  We have assigned every single one to a responsible bureau for immediate implementation and several will be completed by the end of the calendar year."
"About 60"?  If the recommendations have been broken down into action items and these action items have been assigned throughout the department, he should know how many there are.
And if you disagree with me on that he should know the exact number and not "about 60" since he's testifying to Congress, then maybe this will change your mind.  He also told the Committee, "Secretary Clinton has charged my office with leading a task force that will ensure that all 29 are implemented quickly and completely -- and to pursue steps above and beyond the board's report."
If he's in charge of that, he should know the exact number.  Supposedly, these have been assigned.  Then he should know the exact number.  Not only because he was appearing before Congress but also because he's the person Hillary has tasked to be responsible for ensuring the implementations are made.
Senator Boxer had another important issue that might take over the one above so we'll also note it.
Senator Barbara Boxer:  Secondly, the troubling thing here is that there were repeated requests to implement security upgrades in Tripoli and Benghazi and, as we look at this report, we know what happened.  And I would like to know, do you intend to put it to process -- Sorry, to put into place a process that would allow for a second review of these requests by another body in the State Dept?  Because it seems like what happened was the requests came and went to one particular individual or desk and then it never saw the light of day.
Thomas Nides:  Senator, the answer to that is yes. 
That's going to be it for today due to space issues.  To move from the Congress to Iraq, let's note US House Rep Mike Ross.  Roby Brock (City Wire) notes that the Democrat is ending his 12 years in Congress (he lost the election in November) and an interview he gave to Talk Business.  Among the topics he discusses in the interview is Iraq, "I regret my vote on going to war in Iraq. I sat in the White House with the President [Bush] and I'll never forget what he said. He said Sadaam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and if military force is required, it will be 'swift' was the word he gave us… Look, there's evil dictators all over the world. There's no doubt Sadaam was an evil guy, but he didn't have nuclear weapons, he didn't have weapons of mass destruction, and you know America has paid the price through the loss of lives, through soldiers that are injured in ways that will forever change their lives, and through the enormous amount of money we spent which helped contribute to this debt that we have today. Fighting in that war, and like I said, there's evil dictators all over the world, but we can't police the world. I think had we not done what we did in Iraq, I think we could have perhaps been more focused on what we were doing in Afghanistan, which I certainly supported."
This week, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has dominated Iraq's news cycle.   Marco Werman (PRI's The World) spoke yesterday with Al Jazeera, PRI and the Christian Science Monitor's Jane Arraf about Talabani, who he is, the place he occupies in Iraq.  Excerpt.

Marco Werman: So, Jalal Talabani, President of Iraq.  Where did he come from politically speaking?

Jane Arraf:  Well it's interesting that you use the term Kurdish warlord because he did actually come from a background as a fighter as all of the current Kurdish leaders of that generation did.  He was a Peshmerga, fighter in the mountains and then beame a political dissident.  And became one of the two leading figures in Kurdistan.  He is, in many ways, an integral part of the history of that unique entity known as Iraqi Kurdistan which many Kurds would like to see known as its own country.  In recent years, he's played a unique role in Iraqi politics as well.  So he came from the background of a fighter but honed his political skills and is considered really one of the best politicians in the region.

Marco Werman:  I mean, president in Iraq is really a mostly ceremonial role.  How does he actually exert that kind of power?

Jane Arraf:  Well Iraq lurches from crisis to crisis.  And Jalal Talabani has, in many cases, been the man who has stepped in to try to play a mediating role and he's able to do that because in an atmosphere where relations are essentially toxic and posionous between the prime minister and other leading figures including Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdish Region.  He manages to retain ties that are cordial enough to be able to bring people together which is a pretty tough thing in a place like Iraq.  So he's brokered several recent agreements.  The most recent one -- actually just a few days ago -- which is to bring Kurdish forces and Iraqi forces -- who had been coming to head in disputed territories in the north -- to the bargaining table.  And he brokered an agreement to have them actually pull back.  He's done that repeatedly over the years.

Marco Werman:  Mmm.  So what does his illness mean for Iraq's stability?  I mean, if he's out of the picture for ahile, in a hospital for awhile, what happens?

Jane Arraf:  You know, people have been expecting this for quite awhile.  He's been in ill health.  He has been hospitalized quite a few times -- including treatment in the United States. So, in a sense, the party and Kurdish politics have moved around him and perhaps moved a little beyond him.  There will be a power struggle after he's gone.  His son has moved back to the Kurdish region from the United States.  There are other major players Barahm Saleh, the former Kurdistan prime minister.  None of them have the weight, the power -- "weight" literally and figuratively -- the power and the stature really to take his place.  And what a lot of people believe is that Kurdish politics and his own party  will in essence be transformed and might not even exist for that much longer after he's gone.
Dar Addustour reports that the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and his family issued a statement noting that they had been in contact with the office of and family of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to check on his condition and to convey their sincere concern for Talabani's health and their hope that he have a speedy recovery.  Talabani is a Kurd and the first Kurdish president of Iraq.  Rudaw notes that Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani posted the following on his Facebook page, "I am saddened by my dear brother and president Talabani's ill health and I wish him a speedy recovery.  In following President Talabani's condition I am touch with the doctors in Baghdad."   Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) quotes Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq's Foreign Minister, stating today, "He is starting to regain his senses. He is able to feel pain, and this is a sign of progress."

Talabani went to Baghdad's Medical Center Hospital Monday evening.  His office has used vague terms like "health condition."  Others, including the office of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, have stated Talabani had a stroke.  He was being treated yesterday by a team of Iraq, British and German doctors. Deutsche Welle points out, "Questions remain about just how ill the 79-year-old is, although doctors say he has shown signs of improvement." Jaber Ali (Middle East Confidential) observes, "His departure adds however an element of uncertainty to the division that Iraq has been facing since the departure of the US army. In addition people are more worried because some officials have been suggesting that his condition might be more serious on a private note."  People wonder because there's a pattern of disguising Talabani's health.  As Ashley Fantz, Mohammed Tawfeeq and Hamdi Alkhshali (CNN) point out, "In February 2007, he fell ill and was flown to Jordan for treatment, and there were conflicting reports about what prompted his hospitalization. A hospital source told CNN at the time that doctors performed a catheterization procedure on his heart, but his family and aides denied that."
As Jane Arraf noted on PRI's The World, there is a strong chance of a power struggle should it become necessary to replace Talabani as president.  Patrick Markey and Raheem Salman (Reuters) go over this potential terrian:
Under the constitution, parliament elects a new president and a vice president takes over in the interim. The power-sharing deal calls for the presidency to go to a Kurd while two vice president posts are shared by a Sunni and a Shi'ite.
But even that temporary step is complicated. Iraq's Sunni vice president, Tareq al-Hashemi, is a fugitive outside of the country after he fled to escape charges he ran death squads.
The other vice president is Khudair al-Khuzaie, who is seen by some as a hardline Shi'ite from Maliki's alliance.
Among Kurds, analysts said former Kurdistan Prime Minister Barham Salih is favoured as a leader with ties across Iraq's sectarian divide. But there could also be a struggle within Iraqi Kurdistan, where Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party shares power with the Kurdistan Democratic Party.
Behind the scenes, some senior Sunni political leaders have suggested they may present their own candidate for the presidency in a challenge to the Kurds, who some Arab leaders see as more loyal to Kurdish interests than Baghdad.
Sunni political sources said those names include Sunni Vice Premier Saleh al-Mutlaq and Finance Minister Rafie al-Esawi.
BBC News summarizes their correspondent Jim Muir's take, "Because the PUK is so centred around him, there is nobody approaching his stature who would be acceptable both to Baghdad and to his Kurdish constituency as a replacement."  All Iraq News notes that there are discussions among officials and a few are saying it shouldn't be a Kurd.  The article credits the quota system (Sunni as Speaker of Parliament, Shi'ite as Prime Minister and President as a Kurd) to Paul Bremer. If that's correct, it's surprising.  The first real election is at the end of 2005.  That's Parliament.  (Despite a false report by one outlet today, the President of Iraq is not directly elected  -- that post and the prime minister are supposed to be voted on by Parliament.)  Bremer was not beloved in Iraq when he was the Administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority and he leaves that post at the end of June 2004.  So why would they follow some system -- not written into law -- that he set up?  More importantly, he wasn't popular when he was in Iraq.  He's even more unpopular in Iraq today as they live with the effects from his decisions and actions.  So if he was responsible or even if he's wrongly seen as coming up with the quota system (he may have, I don't know), that system could be trashed in replacing Talbani.  In fact, if he did create it or if he's thought to have, the quota system is more likely to be trashed.
Iraq is losing one leader for sure.  All Iraq News notes that Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly of Baghdad's Chaldean Church has announced his intention to step down from his post.  The 85-year-old Cardinal has headed the church since 2003.  Kitabat notes that the January Chaldean Synod will be presided over by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri.  Catholic World News adds, "The Pope has named Archbishop Jacques Ishaq as administrator of the Chaldean patriarchate until a new leader is chosen."
All Iraq News reports that children (plural, no number given) were injured in a Babylon bombing -- it was a landmine.
Staying with Iraqi children, Arab News notes today:
American ammunition may be the reason behind the mounting number of babies born with birth defects in Iraq, a study revealed.
Accounts of children being born with cancer and birth defects have been highlighted in German newspaper Der Spiegel, where Iraqis who were interviewed were not sure of the explanation behind so many dead and deformed newborn babies in Basra, according to Al Arabia.
"Some had only one eye in the forehead. Or two heads," Askar Bin Said, an Iraqi graveyard owner, told the newspaper, describing some of the dead newborn babies that are buried in his cemetery. "One had a tail like a skinned lamb. Another one looked like a perfectly normal child, but with a monkey's face. Legs of one girl had grown together, half fish, half human," he added.
The report cites a study published in September in the Germany-based Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology saying there was a "sevenfold increase in the number of birth defects in Basra between 1994 and 2003. Of 1,000 live births, 23 had birth defects."
For more on the study by the Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, see the October 15th snapshotTom McNamara (CounterPunch) noted the 2004 assaults on Falluja and the weapons the US used including white phosphorous, "A medical study conducted on Fallujah after the battles (Busby et al 2010) confirmed anecdotal reports of an increase in infant mortality, birth defects and childhood cancer rates.  It found that Fallujah had almost 11 times as many major birth defects in newborns than world averages.  A prime suspect in all of this is what the report calls 'the use of novel weapons,' possibly those containing 'depleted uranium.'  The increase in infant mortality, cancer and leukaemia in Fallujah are greater than those reported in the survivors of the US atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945."
Reporters Without Borders just released an embarrassing report entitled [PDF format warning] "2012 Roundup In Numbers."  The report claims to looks at the deaths of journalists around the world.  Yet, as Aswat al-Iraq notes, the report fails to note Iraq.  That omission is disgusting especially when you consider that Reporters Without Borders counts 4 journalists killed in Iraq this year -- click on "Iraq" on the list to see the names:
  • 17 November 2012 - Samir Sheikh Ali - "Al-Jamahir Al-Baghdadiya" editor in chief
  • 14 November 2012 - Ziyad Tarek - Diyala TV
  • 30 July 2012 - Ghazwan Anas - Sama Al-Mossoul TV presenter
  • 2 April 2012 - Kamiran Salaheddin - Salahaddin TV
Turning to the US and veterans, Michael Coleman (ABQJ) reports that the Burn Pit Registry bill passed in the Senate today.  We'll go into that tomorrow.   Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and her office notes.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Murray Press Office
Thursday, December 20th, 2012 (202) 224-2834
Murray Bill to Ensure Dignified Burial for Every Veteran Passes Senate
Bill also includes provisions to improve veterans' benefits, including transportation assistance and the creation of a burn pit registry
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman
of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, applauded Senate passage of the Dignified Burial and Veterans' Benefits Improvement Act of
2012. This House and Senate-negotiated package contains proposals from Democrats and Republicans in both Chambers.
The legislation includes provisions from Chairman Murray's original
bill to authorize the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to
furnish a casket or urn to a deceased veteran when VA is unable to identify the veteran's next-of-kin and determines that sufficient resources are not otherwise available to furnish a casket or urn for burial in a national cemetery. Under current law, VA is not
authorized to purchase a casket or urn for veterans who do not
have a next-of-kin to provide one, or the resources to be buried
in an appropriate manner. Earlier this year Chairman Murray and Ranking Member Burr, joined by U.S. Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL)
and Marco Rubio (R-FL), introduced this legislation after a veteran,
with no known next-of-kin, was buried in a cardboard container at
a VA National Cemetery in Florida. The exposed remains were discovered during a project to raise and realign headstones at the cemetery.
The Dignified Burial and Veterans' Benefits Improvement Act of 2012 would also
establish a registry for those veterans exposed to open burn pits while serving in
 Iraq and Afghanistan and commissions an independent scientific report on the
health effects of such exposures. The legislation would expand and protect
access to VA services by furnishing eligible veterans with transportation to and
from VA facilities and provide transition assistance to eligible veterans and their
spouses outside of military installations.
"When America's heroes make a commitment to serve their
country, we make a promise to care for them," said Chairman
Murray, following passage of the bill. "That includes helping them access VA facilities and providing them with a burial befitting their service."
The House and Senate-negotiated package also includes authority for restoration of the Clark Veterans Cemetery in the Philippines and renames several VA facilities across the country, including the Spokane VA Medical Center, in honor of veterans and individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to veterans, to their communities, and to their country. The bill will now move on to the House of Representatives.
Kathryn Robertson
Specialty Media Coordinator
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
448 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington D.C. 20510